I belong to a writers group. And it’s great!
It all began years ago, when I started the Diploma in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia. It was the first writing course I ever went on. I walked into the room and found myself surrounded by people like me. It was the first time I ever felt like I wasn’t different and strange. I had found my tribe.
Writing is a solitary occupation, so it is crucial for both your mental health and your work to socialise. And what better way to do that than with other writers who are going through the same trials and tribulations as you are?
As part of our diploma course, we went on a weekend retreat, involving taught sessions, visiting speakers, workshopping and private writing time. It was a huge success and we bonded. Many of us went on to study for the Advanced Diploma in Prose Fiction, which was primarily a workshop-based course, and that further cemented the group.
Since then we have continued to meet, once a month, to share our work, our experiences, problems and interests. And an awful lot of tea and flap-jacks! Members have come and gone, buts okay. There is a core group who have stuck together for over a decade now, sharing life experiences, supporting one another through MA courses and publication. We go on annual retreats together, about which more in future. We meet at each other’s houses, planning dates ahead and each offering to the host nights most convenient. Hot and cold drinks, nibbles and cakes are provided to lubricate the conversation.
Based on the old course model, each member brings a piece of new writing that they have done, and we try to keep it to around 1,000 to 2,000 words in length – any longer and it takes up too much time. You can read your own piece, or ask someone else to read it. (It is sometimes really helpful to hear another person read it in order to pick out the parts where the writing is less fluid.) Then people comment. Helpful and empathic criticism is offered. We always make sure we start by pointing out what we like about the piece. Often, if it is part of a larger work, people will ask questions about plot or backstory. Because we know one another’s work so well, we can refer back to earlier stories, or earlier parts of the work, and kick around ideas to find out what might be a useful improvement for any problems. At the end of every participant’s session, they are asked how they feel about what was said, which gives them the chance to say anything that has been missed in the discussion. We usually manage to workshop about three pieces of prose in a 2.5 hour meeting.
Not everyone may have something they want to read, or will have had time to write that month, and that’s okay too. They contribute by commenting on and supporting the work of others. We have prose writers and poets. We share news of any courses or day schools that may have been attended, and often discuss what books everyone is reading too.
And of course, we do a lot of nattering and gossiping too.
Outside the regular meetings, we have been known to circulate work and meet informally for writing sessions. We even do writing sessions over the phone.
I encourage you to find your own tribe. You can do it online or in person. Libraries and publications such as Mslexia and the Writers Digest often have small ads for writers groups. Or start one yourself, as we did. Make sure you are happy with the atmosphere and ethos of the group you join, however. There is no point in sharing your work and then having it brutally cut to pieces. Gaining confidence in dealing with confidence is one thing. Bullying is quite another. There are pitfalls with joining any group, but the advantages with a good one will outweigh any glitches.
My pals in the group have stuck by me through thick and thin and seven novels, and I am eternally grateful to them for their kind support and criticism. And for banning me from using the word ‘massive’. Sometimes you need that kind of pal.
Dear Bridget, Clare, Heidi, Nina, and Sally, I love you.
And now I had better get myself together and go and put some flap-jacks in the oven, because they’ll be round tonight and I haven’t written anything yet!